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Review - "The Grey" Exhibits Masculine Virtues

June 15, 2012

Hollywood has played a central role in emasculating men. But a new movie, "The Grey" is an exception. The movie's central character shows true masculinity, and spoke to our reviewer at visceral level.


by S.A. Eick

(abridged from his blog)

The Grey is a story about a ragtag group of Alaskan oil workers who find themselves stranded in the midst of the Alaskan winter following an air crash and are subsequently hunted down by man-eating wolves.

This is as ridiculous a premise for a work of art as you're likely to hear any time soon - The Way Home meets The Silver Bullet. Yet this premise serves as the foundation of one of the most haunting, sensitive and compelling meditations on mortality, loss and courage I have come across.

greyposter.jpegThe Grey is powered by Liam Neeson in the role of a sharpshooter employed by the oil company to protect its field workers from wild wolves. The film charts his progress along a path from despair, through disaster, to redemption in the face of hopeless odds in the bleak Alaskan midwinter.

The cinematography of the film is superb and evocative, while the haunting soundtrack deftly weaves emotion through vistas of pristine North American wilderness.

However, it is Liam Neeson who transforms The Grey into something special, investing his character with sublime pathos and crafting an increasingly rare and unapologetic representation of true masculinity.

Our mainstream media has increasingly come to represent men in extremes of idiocy. The timid, unthreatening and witty intellectual loser of countless teen flicks, the violent and emotionless 'Robocop' of the action genre and the cocky supercilious jerk seeking redemption in the latest romantic comedy.

None of these are sincere, and are instead templates used by the thoughtless and unimaginative to model their behaviour to fit the expectations of a society that has assimilated these archetypes equally thoughtlessly.

Liam Neeson's character goes beyond these bankrupt archetypes, cutting through to the heart of man, and the fundamental role that courage and compassion play in true masculinity, crafting a character that spoke to me at a visceral level.

From the moment we are introduced to him, we find a man who has no interest in the trivialities of social escapism, norms or group behaviour. Instead we find masculinity expressed as sincerity and power; man expressing strength not through pointless bullying gestures of dominance, but through restraint, kindness, individualism and endurance.

There are two iconic moments in the movie where this masculine energy comes to the fore, both of which stayed with me for days. One of these would act as a spoiler if I repeated it, and I'll therefore leave it for you to discover for yourself.

The other finds Neeson talking a severely injured man through his death with astonishing compassion and honesty. Having recently witnessed the process of my mother slipping into death, I was mesmerised by the sincerity of the depiction, the gravity and honesty of the moment - offering no easy answers, no promises of salvation, simply the opportunity to be present in a moment of suffering and loss.

And this ability to shy away from giving easy answers to the fundamental philosophical questions that the film asks is the perfect complement to the sincerity of Neeson's performance and character.

On the one hand The Grey makes no effort to disguise the savagery and pitiless elements of nature and the broader stage of human life, yet it continually reflects on the astonishing beauty of nature, the vitality and profundity of simply being alive, and our capacity for courage and loyalty.

Rather than providing answers to the questions it poses, The Grey leaves the audience to answer these questions for themselves, just as the central characters are left entirely to their dwindling resources to survive in the frozen forests of North America.

Comments for "Review - "The Grey" Exhibits Masculine Virtues "

Travis said (June 17, 2012):

In Liam Neesen's character, I saw a man who was free and absolute of the opinions of other. A Man is truly a Man when he is able to free himslelf from the shackled opinions of others. This is how things of great importance get done quickly. Not to say collaboration/brainstorming/compromising with others in unmanly, quite the opposite - but to not worry if others think you to be silly, incompetent, ugly, pretty or whatever is what truly sets one free and sets you apart from the pack. Liam Neeson's character was set apart from the pack from the get go. Very inspiring.

Though the plot and choices made by the characters in this movie seemed ridiculous at times, it reeked of manliness!

Adam said (June 16, 2012):

I agree with Sven Eik's interpretation of this film. Given a tough script to work with Neeson does make the movie worth watching.

In response to Greg: It is in the face of doom, despair and hopelessness where a man shows if he has true masculinity and I would suspect a "God, where are you?" moment would be normal in that situation. Also, if you watch to the end (after credits) there is a final shot of a wolf laying as though dying. While it is left to speculation, it may be implied in the script that the Alpha-man defeated the Alpha-wolf for whatever that is worth -- he beat the odds in the face of certain defeat?

A thought that I had when viewing this film was about how Rome was founded by a Wolf-Cult and how some of the elite view themselves as the wolves among us.

Greg said (June 16, 2012):

I suppose I see a masculine man. But I more clearly see a doomed masculine man, and men, who work with a pathetic script of despair, God! where are you?? and consequent hopelessness.
Hollywood continues on its merry way.

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at